Dakota Datebook

Rudy Rudd, Pianist

Monday, June 11, 2012


It was on this date in 1900 that Rudolph Alexander Rudd was born to Norwegian immigrants in Fargo. Rudy was tall and slender, with perfect posture and movie-star good looks.

Rudy had a gift for music. He graduated from the Dakota Conservatory of Music at age 17 and quickly gained a reputation throughout the region as a talented piano player.

Among the groups with whom Rudd performed was a five-piece band called the Collegians, which included Roy Hellander, James Stamp, Hugh McGrath and Earl Olsen, all of the Fargo area. Instrumentation – besides Rudy’s piano – included several gongs, a sax, two banjos, a clarinet, and an exotic drum set complete with a large, chunky, wooden tom-tom. The Collegians reached their high point as a group when they were hired to be the house – or rather the “ship” – band, aboard the “S.S. President McKinley” during a cruise to the Orient in 1925.

The following year, Rudd performed with Norman Ostby’s Fargoans, which featured six tuxedoed men playing a variety of instruments including standup bass, hanging chimes, violin, saxophone, marimbas, piano, and an exotic assortment of drums, gongs, tom-toms and even a timpani. This group expanded into Norman Ostby and his Note Hawks, which was the first orchestra to perform at the newly opened Fargo Theater in March 1926.

Rudd also performed with Harry Smith and his Red Jackets, a 10-piece band featuring Rudy on the piano, three sax players, a banjo player, and five brass players, including a tuba. A 1926 photo of the Red Jackets, taken at the Winter Gardens in Fargo, shows Rudd’s grand piano dramatically draped in an expansive satiny cover edged with ten-inch-long fringe.

Rudd moved to New York City in 1928, and it was here that he met with success performing with comedian Ken Murray’s Review on the celebrated RKO circuit. During this time, Rudd shared the stage with such stars of the day as Edgar Bergen, Mary Brian and Bob Hope.

In October 1930, Rudd visited North Dakota for a 2-week stint as featured soloist with the American Legion State Band. Among their tour stops were Fargo, Jamestown, Wahpeton, Mayville, Hillsboro, Linton and Valley City.

Several years later, Rudd came back to Fargo for good. Between 1938 and 1940, he worked as the staff pianist for WDAY Radio, where he also hosted his own program. He also performed under the name of “Snazzy” with the Hayloft Jamboree Troupe.

Unfortunately, Rudd’s career was cut short when he contracted meningitis at the age of 40. He died on October 9th, 1940, in a Fargo hospital.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

Sources: The Bismarck Tribune. Mon 13 Oct, 1930; The Bismarck Tribune. Thur 10 Oct, 1940; Institute for Regional Studies. “Biography: Rudolph Rudd.” NDSU, Fargo.



This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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